Students meeting outside the Information Sciences and Technology Building

Within days, throngs of students will return to the University Park campus, bringing with them a bustling sense of excitement to State College. This annual “migration” marks the start of a new academic year and new classes, which energizes our faculty and staff. We are excited at this time each year, despite the recognition that there will be a few “startup” challenges: students trying to find the elusive Cybertorium (hint, the main entrance is on the second floor), classroom computers and equipment that seem to experience first-day jitters of their own, and a general air of mild chaos, as everyone acclimates to their new routines.

As I observe so many fresh-faced students arriving on campus, I’m reminded of a story about an apprehensive young man who is being inducted into the Army. Nervously, he asks a seasoned sergeant for advice: “What should I do to survive in the army?”  The sergeant replies, “Keep your nose clean and don’t volunteer for a thing!” That advice might have served the new recruit, but for students in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, I believe the path to success requires more directives.

So, what advice would this aging Dean/professor give to new (and returning) students?  Here are my top 6 ways to make an impact during your time at IST:

  1. Get involved:  In IST we offer numerous clubs and organizations that provide special learning experiences, great networking opportunities, and general fun, all while building your resume. Some of the many organizations include the IST Diplomats leadership initiative, Women in IST (WIST), IST for the Kids (which supports THON at Penn State), the Enterprise Architecture Club, Game Development Club, Consulting Club, Information Assurance Club, the Server Administrator Club, Security and Risk Analysis Club, and the Red Cell Analytics Club.
  2. Be a demanding consumer:  Penn State provides excellent educational opportunities. Treat each class as if you were a demanding consumer: get to know the instructor, ask questions, try to understand how each class fits into the overall pattern of courses in your major, and ask the instructor questions about the course approach, exercises, evaluation methods, etc.  If you have problems in learning the material, ask the instructor for references to supporting tutorials or materials, and utilize the teaching assistants and learning assistants who are there to help you (as well as to help the instructor).
  3. Access Penn State resources:  Penn State is a major Research I university with a nationally ranked top 10 library. There are enormous resources available both online and at the library.  IST has a dedicated librarian, Penny Huffman, who is available to help you learn what types of resources are available and how to access them.  Penn State ITS Training Services provides a large set of online training materials (videos and tutorials) for a wide variety of information technology areas (e.g., learning about specific computer programs) as well as workshops and student tech tutors who can provide “hands on” help to you.  Penn State also subscribes to Lynda.com, which provides free access a very large online training library.
  4. Get to know your professors:  Talk to your professors/instructors.  Get to know them.  Ask them about their background, the possibilities of undergraduate research opportunities or other opportunities for involvement with clubs or projects. Our faculty really enjoy getting to know students as individuals – your interests, background, future plans, etc.  This interaction will be mutually beneficial.
  5. Go online for additional resources: The on-line resources available to support your learning are plentiful. Sites such as Khan Academy provide more than 3000 videos and tutorials. Ted Talks  are highly entertaining and educational talks on many emerging topics, ranging from advances in technology to life lessons. Massively open online courses (MOOCs) are free online courses that offer instruction in a wide variety of areas ranging from computer programming to artificial intelligence, computer security, introduction to data base technology, and many more. Open Culture  lists 550 free MOOCs from many universities. Penn State is working with Coursera to develop new MOOCs and IST will be developing some IST related MOOCs starting this fall.
  6. Have fun:  Finally, take time to have some fun.  As a major university, Penn State holds numerous sporting events (15 men’s and 14 women’s teams ranging from baseball and basketball to volleyball), hosts artists and performers from throughout the world, and provides opportunities for many low-cost or free events and activities.  Check out the Bryce Jordan Center calendar of events, the list of activities at the Center for the Performing Arts, and StateCollege.com for even more events in the area.

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